Sunday, March 27, 2011

HBO's "Dirty Driving: Thunder Cars Of Indiana" and Sammy Hawkins: Three Years After The Making

The first time I saw the HBO Documentary "Dirty Driving: Thunder Cars of Indiana,' about two years ago, I was sitting down in my den channel surfing. When I landed on the HBO channel, I notice these "down to earth characters" who were real life people living in a Mid-Western struggling town in the United States called Anderson, Ind. This was not some reality show where everything is basically scripted. This was totally real. I was captivated and fascinated right off the bat by this particular documentary. Here you have some guys and ladies who love local auto racing and whose lives revolve around it in the midst where hundreds of factory jobs have left their town. In spite of these people living in a town where people are really hurting in a tough economy, there's a bright spot of happiness where one pursues their dreams of trying to win the overall seasonal grand prize and trophy for having the most victories in one season.

I have to admit, I am not a auto racing fan. Yeah, I've watched a few bits and pieces of NASCAR on television here and there. But I can't say, I've watched a whole race. I am more interested in people and human drama. And I like to watch how people interact with each other and I like to watch how things are made and built-up or destroyed and torn down. "Dirty Driving" a not a documentary about auto racing completely. It was more of a documentary of how one particular character or the main character, Sammy Hawkins, was holding on to his job at the local Firestone plant and his family and pursuing his dreams of winning his first race. It also showed his passion for his weekend sport at the Anderson Speedway. Sammy was portrayed as an "underdog and a fighter." And real life, he really is an underdog and a fighter. During the time, the documentary was being filmed, he had not won a race as of yet. But he was not going to give up and until this day, three years later, he is still racing.

After I watched the documentary, I wrote it about it on a former blog that I had. And then, when I created a new blog, I somehow lost it. But in the mean time, I asked to Sammy to be my friend on "Facebook," and his "Myspace" site. I've been able to maintain a friendship with him through these social networking sites and recently I was able to ask him a couple questions to see how he feels about the documentary and where he stands now three years later since it was made.

Me: It's been three years since the documentary has been out-how does it feel these days after three years about being one of the main subjects of a documentary that has been shown all over the world to millions of people and still continues to be shown to millions of people all over the world these days?

Sammy: I enjoyed being the main subject of the documentary very much. I have had a lot of people write me telling me how my "never give up" attitude has helped them. I have had a hard life with the loss of three children and my ex-wife keeping from seeing my oldest daughter, Brittany. I have since been reunited with Brittany and I now have two small children, Roselynn, age 4, and Jarrod, age 2. I enjoy all the fans I now have for someone who has still never won a race. The closest I have came has been second place. I still watch the show now and then and I still laugh really hard at some of it. I didn't like the fact they cut the good neighborhoods out of the film and the shopping district. We also set up a New Years Party at "Shouts Sports Bar" and it was also filmed and it didn't make their (HBO) final cut.

Me: I know in the past that you have expressed some real dissatisfaction with the HBO people regarding the documentary. Do you still feel that way and do feel this way about Jon Alpert, the director/producer of the documentary too? He seems to think quite fondly of you according to the literature on the HBO web-site about the documentary. He says that you are a "underdog and a fighter" and he admires that in you and that Anderson, Ind., reminds him of where he grew up in a similar town in the state of New York.

Sammy: I still think we should have been paid for our time doing this film. They are making a bundle on the film and they chose not to pay us a single dime. This film was about a failing town and people trying to survive in it and HBO also walked away with a hit and left the people that could have helped with any kind of payment. They are selling thousands of DVDs on the HBO web-site and they couldn't give us anything. Jon Alpert, I like, but I think he let us down by not standing up for us and getting us compensated for the film. I really like Jon and I also admire him a lot. I got to at least fly out to New York with my wife for the premier and got to tour the Big Apple. I had always wanted to go to New York and see the sights and that was really exciting for me and Christina. I didn't like the fact they kind of portrayed her as an alcoholic. She isn't. When we work on the cars, we would (back then) drink our beer so she chose to do the same. Now I'm a father of two and I have changed my life 100% and I'm still looking for work since Firestone closed in 2009.

Me: What would you say about this documentary since it has been out as far as putting you and some of your fellow race car drivers in the spotlight-has this documentary brought you and good fortune or bad fortune? I know you said that you didn't get paid a dime for it but has anything good come out it? And what about Anderson, Ind., in spite of the tough times with the lost of all the jobs and tough economy, has anything good come out of it for your town as far as the documentary goes?

Sammy: I'm only speaking for myself when I say that there has been good and bad come out of it. I had the local paper attack me in one of their articles and I wrote an article of my own and delivered it in person to the newspaper office. Needless to say, the jerk that wrote the article would not come down and speak with me but they did print my article. I have had some great sponsorships from Log Cabin Resorts in Northwester Indiana and from Byrd Brothers Trucking out of Dayton, Ohio. I haven't gotten a job though. I did a few radio shows. One for Jack Flash online radio and one for John Michael Vincent from a local radio station in Indy. Other than that, I have had a blast with it. My wife doesn't like all the publicity. But I kind of enjoy it since I had never gotten to be in sports when I was in school. So I guess, it was my time to shine so to speak. Lol. The only thing I did for Anderson was bring more people to the track on the weekends. We got a Nestles plant in town that brought a lot of people with them when they moved here. So that didn't create a lot of jobs. We also have a casino now but it can only provide some many jobs and the rest of us are left out in the cold. Other than that, I don't think it did a whole lot for the town.

Me: If another filmmaker where to approach you again about doing another documentary about you and the Anderson Speedway, would you do it again? Would you do anything different this time? Would you make sure you got some kind of compensation or get a contract signed if possible?

Sammy: If another filmmaker came to town, yes, I would do it again. I would make sure they were planning on paying me this time and definitely get a contract signed before doing anything. When Jon was here, I did a lot of arranging of meetings for him and talked to all the other drivers and got them to go along with it. The only driver, I had nothing do with was Billy Riddle. That kind of happened on its own. I would let them know that we will not be taken advantage of and expect royalties from the showing of the film as well as a lump payment for our time. HBO had us signed a release so they could film but nowhere in does it say we weren't getting paid. We expected to get something besides a handshake and a thank you. I would not let that happen again. But I would love to do it.

Me: Thank you for your time, Sammy. I appreciate you as a friend on "Facebook," and I wish you all the best for you and your family. And I sincerely hope you find a job soon. You're a really good guy who holds his head up high in spite of the tough circumstances that you face presently. God Bless and thanks again, my friend.

*You can "friend" Sammy Hawkins of Facebook and Myspace. Also, you can join the "Sammy Hawkins Fan Club" on Facebook. I'm sure Sammy would love to have you as a friend!

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